July 2nd-8th, 2006
STRAUSS, FLAGELLO IN MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL
NAXOS REVIEWS: KHANDOSHKIN, DORMAN
SHOSTAKOVICH ON PENTATONE; MONTEVERDI ON NAÏVE
STRAUSS, FLAGELLO IN MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL
Review by Gwyn Parry-Jones
Strauss’s final tone-poem, the Alpine Symphony of 1915, is a huge work in terms of its structural scale and the forces required. It’s also a huge challenge for orchestra and conductor. Strauss makes almost impossible demands on his players, the horn section in particular, for whom this is one of the ultimate peaks of the repertoire – a veritable ‘Matterhorn’, if you like. Indeed, the work calls for a total of some twenty horns, twelve of them in the off-stage band!
The structure of the work is fascinating, as it reflects the actual journey up and down the mountain. The climax is the colossal outburst at the summit, but the cleverest structural device is the descent. For this, Strauss was faced with the danger of anticlimax attendant on the symphonic necessity for a recapitulation of earlier themes. So he contrived a thrilling storm, and, as the party of climbers hurry home amidst the thunder, lightning and torrential rain, the composer is able to review in rapid succession many of the earlier descriptive episodes. Extremely crafty, and highly effective.
The work is spectacular, no doubt about that – and in that quality it reflects its subject, for what in this world is more spectacular than vast mountain scenery? But the work contains many subtle effects too; the arrival on the summit, for example, is at first quiet and awestruck, with a hesitant oboe solo (track 13, 0:15), the full orchestral panoply being saved for a little later when the great vista has ‘sunk in’. The little ‘peeps’ on the oboe in the tense lull before the storm are marvellously evocative (track 18, 0:30 and later), as are the diminishing raindrops after the storm (track 19, 3:12), in a retreat deliberately (I believe) reminiscent of the William Tell Overture. Incidentally, there are many other incidental quotations, or rather allusions, in this work; they include one to Strauss’s own Arabella, one to Wagner’s Siegfried, and even, arguably, one to Mendelssohn’s Oh for the Wings of a Dove. No I’m not telling you – find them yourself!
Nearer the conclusion, the coda is ushered in by a key-change of breathtaking and daring beauty (track 21, 6:06), as the violins reach giddy, pianissimo heights. For those interested in technicalities, it’s a shift from A major to the ‘home’ key of Bb minor, using C#/Bb as the pivot note. Sounds terrible, but the effect is totally magical.
So, do Wit and his Weimar players rise to these musical challenges? The answer is undoubtedly yes, for this is a really very fine account of the work, fit to rank with the best available. Wit takes relatively broad tempi, allowing the multi-coloured orchestration and sumptuous melodies plenty of space to make their effect. But he misses none of the energy of the faster passages, and allows the music to surge forward where necessary in the early stages.
The recording is impressive, particularly in its capturing of the inner, teeming detail of the score. However, the downside is that some of the ‘tuttis’ do not make quite the impact they should. After the long dark Bb minor introduction portraying Night, the sunrise (Track 2) – even more magnificent for me than the one in Also Sprach Zarathustra - should be overwhelming in its brilliance. Wit and his players don’t quite make it, splendid though it is. Something of the same reservations apply to the great outburst on the summit, and the storm which follows, though here, the percussion is undoubtedly impressive - except that the Strauss’s beloved wind machine can’t really be heard. Shame! The Philips engineers for Haitink, for example, capture it much better, and, in part because of that, the Storm is even more exciting there.
But much of the playing, under Wit’s sympathetic guidance, is quite wonderful. The brass are a perfectly balanced ensemble, and the principal trumpet deserves a mention for his negotiation of ‘Dangerous Moments’ (track 12) – perilous stuff indeed, which has embarrassed more than one distinguished player in the past. And those horns? Heroes, all of them, the high, unison passages ringing out with great confidence and massive decibels. The one solitary top concert F, during the Vision passage, can be heard distinctly, if you know where to listen (track 13, just after 4:45).
Of course, this piece has a great deal more to it than virtuoso horn writing, and the other orchestral sections, strings, woodwind and percussion, make superb contributions too. The strings are a really fine body, with rich, homogeneous tone, as well as malleable phrasing when required, and all the woodwind soloists (particularly first oboe and first bassoon) acquit themselves with distinction. And I’ve already mentioned the percussion’s terrific blood and thunder (as opposed to ‘thud and blunder’) in the storm sequence.
A major contender, then, and you can cram the one hundred and forty or so players that this work requires into your hi-fi for just £4.99 – a miracle!
Nicolas FLAGELLO (1928-1994): Piano Concerto No. 1 (1950),Dante's Farewell (1962), Concerto Sinfonico for saxophone quartet and orchestra (1985)
Tatjana Rankovich (piano),
Susan Gonzalez (soprano),
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/John McLaughlin Williams,
New Hudson Saxophone Quartet,
Rutgers Symphony Orchestra/Kynan Johns
rec. Large Concert Studio, National Radio Company of Ukraine (Kiev), 22-26 June 2005; Mason Gross Performing Arts Center, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA, 6 November 2004. DDD
Review by Rob Barnett
This is the second Flagello disc from Naxos. The first, reviewed here, included the hyper-romantic First Symphony. Like many another Flagello recording project this disc is due to Walter Simmons whose passionate yet objective advocacy for a generation of unfashionable American composers should be a matter of nationally treasured pride in the USA. You can read more about six of 'his' composers in the book "Voices in the Wilderness" (Scarecrow Press) an invaluable read for those with a sense of adventure in this repertoire. review
Flagello was born in New York City. The precocious young man soon came under the wing of another American late-romantic with Italian roots, Vittorio Giannini and studied with him at the Manhattan School of Music. In 1985 after many years as a composer and conductor he began to suffer from a degenerative illness and survived in tragic musical silence another nine years.
Going by the early Piano Concerto No. 1 Flagello's music is that of a tortured soul. Welts and wounds are exposed and the pain communicated. This is music of grandstand torment. The hyper-emotionalism and consistent heat of the writing leaves the listener suspended between Rachmaninov (Piano Concerto No. 3), Barber (the Essays) and Miaskovsky. As ever these are crude approximations but will give some idea of the realms of Flagello's expression. Flagello has no truck with trendy dissonance. He could not help making himself an outsider by writing a piano concerto like this in 1950.
Tatjana Rankovich knows Flagello's music very well having recorded the other two concertos for Artek review She relishes and rejoices in the frankly gorgeous melody of the Andante. The sparky and triumphant (4:40) finale will delight Rachmaninov admirers. Unusually for a rare piano concerto this movement maintains a consistency of mood with all that has gone before.
Dante's Farewell is a volatile operatic scena, corrosively assaulting the senses, fulminant and accelerant in one. The style can be related to the superheated arias in Barber's grand opera Antony and Cleopatra. Susan Gonzalez sings this music with affection and flaming emotion. The text is by Joseph Tusiani and recounts, from the viewpoint of Gemma, Dante's wife, the great Italian poet's nightmare dilemmas and emotional angst. The words are printed in full. The orchestration was made at the request of the Flagello estate and is by Anthony Sbordoni. Knowing more than a few of Flagello's other works this adaptation strikes me as completely consonant with the authentic Flagello style and spirit.
The Concerto Sinfonico is Flagello's last completed work. Typically it confronts and articulates torment and beauty; listen to the harp and celesta backdrop at is 5:10 in the first movement which prepares the way for the exultation of 6:23 onwards. The work is lent vigour and grit by a certain stamping energy slightly redolent of William Schuman. Towards the end of the movement a vengeful hunt seems to drive the music onwards to a destination that is part abyss and part triumphant apotheosis. It's powerful stuff. The quartet act as hortator and participant. There is no sense of separation or commentatory role. It was first performed by the Amherst Quartet with the Buffalo Phil conducted by Semyon Bychkov in November 1985.
You will know by now whether this music is for you. It merits a wholehearted endorsement.
NAXOS REVIEWS: KHANDOSHKIN, DORMAN
Review by David Vernier
Most listeners will never have heard the name Ivan Khandoshkin (1747-1804),
but violinist Anastasia Khitruk has admirably undertaken to bring this little-known
solo-violin repertoire to wider attention. Published in the early years of the
19th century, Khandoshkin's Op. 3 sonatas show the influences we might expect,
given the composer's exposure to a court musical environment that included musicians
from Italy, Germany, and France. As court soloist and Kapellmeister for Catherine
the Great Khandoshkin apparently was a highly regarded and accomplished performer--and
as these compositions show, he also was very adept at creating works that seem
perfectly designed for the purpose of entertaining his audience.
While the famed solo violin works of Bach are formally sophisticated, technically
complex, and artistically profound, Khandoshkin's efforts, while quite substantial
(the longest is nearly 20 minutes) and far from fluff, are mostly functional
vehicles for virtuoso display--and virtuoso they are, demanding the most advanced
fingering (double-, triple-, and quadruple-stops) and bowing techniques (detached
staccato, louré, sautillé/spiccato, and leaping arpeggio effects) as well as
a comprehensive sense of the composer's style and expressive intent.
Khitruk is a remarkable artist, not only giving sure-footed
life and uninhibited flair to these rigorous, relentlessly showy pieces, but
also taking care to articulate the contrapuntal textures and expressive/dramatic
elements that run through each work from beginning to end. The Six Old Russian
Songs are less successful, inhibited both by the songs' melodic constraints
and the composer's imagination, but also marred by a bass line (played here
by cellist Kyrill Yevtushenko) that's overly prominent and pedestrian. Nevertheless,
violin aficionados will be very interested in hearing these pieces, and anyone
who appreciates dynamic, virtuoso instrumental playing of any kind will enjoy
Khitruk's flashy, fiery style and impeccable technique. Outstanding!
Review by Allan Kozinn
The New York Times, Sunday, July 9th, 2006
The most common complaint of listeners who dislike new music is that its language,
whether atonal, avant-garde or Minimalist, stands apart from the syntax and
harmonic vocabulary that developed over earlier centuries. But composers can't
win; those who try to reconnect with that lost thread are often dismissed as
Avner Dorman, a 31-year-old Israeli composer who lives in New York, clearly
believes that the language of the early 20th century — essentially tonal but
ripping free of tonality; within shouting distance of Romanticism but not under
its shadow — can still be useful. Though the piano works here are accessible
and inviting, describing Mr. Dorman as conservative wouldn't be quite right.
These works draw on the energy and spikiness of Prokofiev and Bartok in textures
interwoven with moves borrowed from rock, jazz and Middle Eastern folk music.
Mr. Dorman's genre mixing begins with the earliest work here, the Prelude
No. 1 (1992), which uses an arpeggiated Bach prelude as a template but rounds
out its chords with blue notes and jazz harmonies. A set of "Moments Musicaux"
(2003) offers a ruminative, soulful opening movement offset by a vigorous, bright-edged
Presto that combines a Prokofiev-style harmonic steeliness with a salsa rhythm.
Popular influences of a more antique strain animate the "Azerbaijani Dance"
(2005), a brief, assertive showpiece that examines a folk theme through the
lens of splashy pianism.
Mr. Dorman's Sonata No. 1 (1998) remains fully in Prokofiev mode, with finger-breaking,
big-textured outer movements and a long, mostly lyrical central one. Though
the piano writing is appealing and supremely idiomatic, it only hints at how
Mr. Dorman's compositional voice will develop. The two-movement Sonata No. 2
(2001) is more idiosyncratic. It begins with a quiet but increasingly acidic
slow movement, which builds toward an eerie tolling figure, and ends with a
forceful, rhythmically sharp-edged finale.
But Mr. Dorman seems to have found himself in the Sonata No. 3 ("Dance
Suite," 2005). Here he prowls territory similar to that of the "Azerbaijani
Dance" and draws on post-tonal and pop influences as well. In the central
movement, "Oud and Kanun," Mr. Dorman evokes the gentle timbres of
the oud, an Arabic lute, and the modal language of traditional Arabic music.
Then he creates a dialogue in which the oud melodies and harsher contemporary
figures gradually adopt each other's characteristics. Surrounding this cultural
interplay is an introspective Prelude, which uses the keyboard's extremes, and
a quick finale that Mr. Dorman calls "Techno" but that doesn't quite
evoke the electronic characteristics of that pop form.
Eliran Avni plays these works with an assurance and flexibility
that make them sound as if they had been in his repertory forever. He has the
ironclad technique that Mr. Dorman's writing demands, but there is ample suppleness
in his playing as well, a quality that makes the slow, quiet movements as arresting
as the fiery ones.
SHOSTAKOVICH ON PENTATONE; MONTEVERDI ON NAÏVE
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6
Russian National Symphony, Vladimir Jurowski
From a review by Lawson Taitte
Dallas Morning News, Saturday, July 1st, 2006
Young firebrand Vladimir Jurowski leads the Moscow-based orchestra that his
compatriot Mikhail Pletnev has built from scratch in recent years. You won't
find a more electrifying Symphony No. 1 than this one. The romping piano in
the second movement causes the pulse to race, and those massive staccato chords
toward the end might just stop your heart entirely.
The astonishing level of orchestral refinement shows that the
Russian National Orchestra can play as well as any Western rival, but it doesn't
sound all that different from them, either. Maybe the strings have a warmth
and sheen that sets them apart.
MONTEVERDI: Il Sesto Libro de Madrigali
Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini
Review by Steven Winn
San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, July 9th, 2006
Claudio Monteverdi's sixth book of madrigals may be the unhappiest
sheaf of music ever written. Devoted to the composer's grief over the death
of his wife in 1607 and then of a favored female singer a year later, these
18 songs seep lamentation and woe. The singers' voices twine together and wrench
apart, as if seized in spontaneous, uncontrollable outbursts. All of it is contained
in the taut but flexible madrigal form the composer used in such vividly original
ways. The performances, by the vocalists of Concerto Italiano under the direction
of Rinaldo Alessandrini, are urgent, artful and tenderly shaped. Some listeners
may find the sorrowful mood engulfing and oppressive. Even a melismatically
ripe recollection of happiness, in "Zefiro torna," comes darkly shaded